Get the Job Feb 26 2010

Finance Job Lag: Explaining Employment Gaps on Your Resume and in Interviews

With the jobless rate the highest it's been in decades, and financial-services jobs particularly hard hit, having a gap in your job history isn't all that uncommon.

The average time it takes to find a job after a layoff has grown as more and more people hit the job market, and having to explain a current unemployment gap as well as previous ones is becoming more of a reality.

While recruiters are wary of gaps in candidates' job histories, there are ways to disguise these gaps on your resume and explain them to hiring managers so that they will be looked upon more favorably.

Early Employment Gaps
Before you even get an interview, you'll want to assuage recruiters' concerns about gaps in employment on your resume. If you have gaps in employment early on in your career and have had several jobs since, it's important to remember that a resume doesn't have to list every position you've held. For example, if you were temporarily unemployed in 2000 but have had a steady career track after that, simply don't list the position that lead to you being unemployed. "As information becomes older it becomes a lot less relevant," says Jewel Bracy DeMaio, a resume writer based in Philadelphia. "Employers are interested in your most recent positions."

Downplaying Dates
Use dates to your advantage on the resume. Removing months when you date each position can cover up a resume gap if it was a short one, says Mary Elizabeth Bradford, a resume writer based in Boerne, Texas. For instance, if you list that you worked with a company from December 2005 to February 2006, and were laid off until you found a position in June of 2006, the hiring manager will know you were temporarily unemployed. Listing 2005-2006 next to a position will imply a longer duration and cover up your time off before your June start date. For longer unemployed stints, simply removing months won't cover the unemployed spells. Rather, don't accentuate the dates. Bracy DeMaio suggests unbolding dates and putting them near text rather than set off to the right side where they catch the eye's attention.

Consulting Gigs Count
Consulting work has long been an appealing avenue for out-of-work financial professionals. If you found yourself consulting during an unemployed stint, list this on your resume, says Bradford. If you consulted for big-name companies during time off, this is a great way to add some cache to your resume. Similarly, if you used a gap in unemployment to receive industry certifications such as your CPA, Series 7, 6, 63 or receive a Masters in Business Administration, you can list these accomplishments on your resume in place of a position. Listing such achievements will show hiring managers that the time was dedicated to increasing your skill set and remaining relevant in your industry.

Honesty Is the Best Policy
It's important to always be truthful on your resume, says Michael Mueller, market manager with Roth Staffing Companies, a staffing organization specializing in finance and accounting. Mueller says employers are conducting employment verifications in addition to background checks, and a little white lie can ruin your candidacy.

Use Recessions to Your Advantage
Hiring managers have a different attitude toward more recent resume gaps that occurred as a result of the economic downturn and financial markets. "If someone is looking for a job for six or eight months, it won't raise the red flag it would have years ago," says Bradford, who adds that the average job search for more senior executives is 12 months. Mueller agrees, saying that recruiters are more forgiving toward layoffs.

Explaining Gaps in Interviews
After you mitigate job gaps in your resume, prepare to answer questions about these gaps during interviews. The biggest concern recruiters have about periods of unemployment is whether the candidate was fired for some reason, says Mueller.

If you were laid off or fired, create the appearance that your job gap was due to your being selective about your next job, rather than employers not offering you anything. For example, a person working in finance may say something along the lines of, "As you know, the current situation resulted in mass layoffs. I took some time off to reflect and focus the direction I wanted to proceed in. I began researching industries and actively interview and that's why I'm excited to be here today," says Bradford. An answer like that demonstrates that you've done your homework and are looking for a long-term position that meets your requirements, rather than rushing into any paying job.

If you became unemployed as the result of a mass layoff rather than a performance-based firing, make this known in the interview, says Bracy DeMaio.

Other reasons that may explain gaps in employment include personal loss, mothers onramping back into the workplace or family obligations. Experts say to tread these issues carefully, especially if the reason may provoke you to become emotional. If you took time off from work to care for a sick child or parent, experts say to be honest with hiring managers, who will most likely be sympathetic to your cause. However, don't dwell on the circumstances surrounding whatever personal experience caused you to take time off, you'll want to talk about what you can bring to the table now, says Bracy DeMaio.

Mueller says some employers may worry that your situation may require you to take more time off. He says to calm these fears by showing that you're fully committed and that you're forward-thinking.


Overall, go into an interview ready to explain that any gap in employment history was due to your selectiveness or the economy, rather than companies being uninterested in your experience. Try to allay any concerns that your gaps are due to poor performance.

-- Dana Mattioli

Email Dana about this article here. Please make sure to include the title of the article in the email subject line.

Related Content:

-- How to Make Informational Interviews Work for You

-- After the Interview: How to Land a Finance Job

-- Preparing for Behavioral and Case Interviews

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